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Literature of the Hindoos. ALTHOUGH the modern Hindoos are generally distinguished by deplorable mental as well as bodily imbecility, they are the descendants of ancestors not less conspicuous both for intellectual and physical power. Learning is said to have flourished in India before it was cultivated in Egypt, and some have assumed that it was from beyond the Indus that the Nile itself was first visited with the orient beams of knowledge. The modern Hindoos, however, in their unutterable degradation, are only careful to preserve the monuments of their forefathers' glory and intelligence in the stupendous ruins, or, rather, in the imperishable skeletons of their temples, and in their sacred and scientific books. But the latter being wholly in the hands of the Brahmins, few of whom understand much of their contents, are impregnably sealed from the researches of the multitude.
The astronomical tables of the ancient Indians are yet the admiration of Europeans, considering the disadvantages under which they were framed; and if there remained no other discernible traces of learning, these would mark a high degree of civilization among the people that could calculate them. Dwelling, like their contemporaries the Chaldeans and Babylonians, in immense plains, where, over an unbroken circle of horizon below, a perfect hemisphere of sky was expanded above, they watched the motions of the stars, while they guarded their flocks by night, and learned to read with certainty, in the phases of the heavens, the signs of times and seasons useful to the husbandman and the mariner
But, unsatisfied with these, they vainly endeavoured to find out what the heavens could not teach-the destinies of individuals and the revolutions of empires.
The sacred books of the Hindoos, which are yet preserved (so far as their authenticity can be deemed probable, and their institutes have been explored), display a corresponding elegance of style, simplicity of thought, and purity of doctrine, in all these respects differing essentially from the monstrous fables, the bloody precepts, and shocking abominations with which their more modern writings abound. The affinity between the architecture and hieroglyphics of India and Egypt indicates the common origin of both, and almost necessarily implies the senior claims of the former; for science, like empire, has uniformly travelled westward in its great cycle, whatever occasional retrogradation may have been caused by disturbing forces. Egypt, with all its wonders, can boast nothing so magnificent as the Caves of Elora, consisting of a series of temples, sixteen in number, a mile and a half in length, and each from a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet in breadth, with heights proportioned, all sculptured out of the live rock by labour incalculable, and with skill only equalled by the grandeur of the edifices on which they have been expended. Edifices, however, they are not, in the proper sense of the word. The men of those days found in the heart of their country a mountain of granite equal to the site of a modern city. They excavated the solid mass, not building up, but bringing out, like the statue from the marble, the multitydinous design; shaping sanctuaries, with their roofs and walls, and decorating them with gigantic images and shrines, by removing the fragments as they were hewn away, till the whole was presented standing upon innumerable pillars, left in the places where they had been identified with the original block; the range of temples, from the flint pavement
to the vaulted roof, being in fact one stone, wrought out of the darkness of its native quarry, open to the sun, and pervious to the breeze through all its re
It seems as though the master-spirits who planned this work had caught the sublime idea from their own prolific tree, which, casting its boughs on every side, takes fresh root at the extremity of each when it touches the soil, and multiplies itself into a forest from one stem. Milton, from such an architectural tree, represents our first parents, after their fall, as gathering the ample leaves, “ broad as a target,” to twine into girdles :
“ The fig-tree-not that kind for fruit renown'd,
Could the minds that conceived and the hands that wrought this prodigy of art have been those of men in their second childhood, -not the second child. hood of individuals, but of a people fallen into dotage and decrepitude, like their descendants, under the double curse of tyranny and superstition ? No; the ancient Indians were men of mighty bone and mighty intellect, not only according to the evidence of these unparalleled relics of their power, but according to the most authentic testimony of those who have described the expedition of Alexander the Great into this vast region. Whatever. were his victories, he saw a boundary there which he was not permitted to pass; and when he left India behind him unsubdued, he had little reason to sigh for other worlds to conquer. Nor (which is principally to our present
purpose) was he less thwarted by the philosophers of India than bafiled by its warriors and its climate. These exercised such influence over the people, that the tribes rose in mass to repel the invader, or perish on the field, or amid the blazing ruins of their strong-holds, rather than submit, -and thencefor. ward live under the ban of excommunication from the society of men, which the priests had power to decree, and all the plagues which it was believed the gods would inflict upon the betrayers of their country to a stranger.
In later ages, unfortunately, India was subdued,subdued again and again; and for two thousand vears it has been the prey of foreigners. At length, however, in the order of Providence, it has become a province of the British empire; and, by whatever means acquired, it may be confidently asserted that our dominion there must be- I trust will be-maintained by beneficence. Resolutely avoiding all political allusions, I cannot hesitate to say that a better day has dawned on that land of darkness; yet, before the Hindoo can rise to the dignity of independent man, a spell which has paralyzed his spirit for thousands of years must be taken off. The chain of caste must be broken-that subtlest and strongest of chains, at once invisible and indissoluble ; each link being perfect and insulated, so as to enclose within its little magic circle a distinct class of the community, and prevent the individuals for ever from mingling with those of any other class; while all the links are so implicated together as to make all the classes one race of captives, dragged, as it were, in perpetual succession, at the chariot-wheels of their own Juga : gernaut, along the broad road of ignorance, debasement, and superstition. This chain must be broken by the gradual association of persons of various castes in civil, military, commercial, and religious bands, wherein all acting together, and on terms of equality, those fetters which both concatenate and
divide them will be worn thinner and thinner by incessant and unregarded attrition, till at length they fall off of themselves.
But it is by schools, in which children are promis. cuously educated, whatever be their rank and parentage, that the prejudices of bigotry and the inveteracy of proscription will be most easily and effectually abolished. A great point has been gained within the last thirty years, when seminaries in which European literature (however humble in form) is taught were first opened, and are now, in many instances, well frequented by boys of all castes, from the sons of the Brahmin to those of the Soudhra : but a still greater step towards native emancipation was taken by a countrywoman of our own, about twelve years ago, who dared to offer instruction to Hindoo females. Their mothers, through a hundred generations, had been held in the bonds of ignorance, and if their posterity had been left for a hundred generations more under the same thraldom and outlawry, the other sex must have remained, by a judicial fatality, as they are, and as they have been, -unimprovable beings, from the hereditary disqualification of caste, which prevents a man from ever being any thing but what his father was, and requires him to entail the monotonous curse upon all his posterity. But now the worst of castes--the caste of sex—is broken in India, by the opening of schools for girls in various stations. The work has been begun under good auspices, and it will go on. The great difficulty was to take the first step: this, a few years ago, was deemed an impossibility, the only impossibility now is, to stop the progress of motion once communi. cated, and never to cease while the earth rolls in its orbit.
But we must return westward,